When I was a boy in Australia, a radiant being who insisted in speaking Greek informed me that all true knowledge is “anamnesis”. I discovered that the word means “remembering”, but in a deeper sense than just remembering where you parked the car or left the car keys. Anamnesis, for the Neoplatonist philosophers, is the act of reclaiming essential knowledge of psyche and spirit that belonged to us before we came into our present bodies. When I was able to grasp this, I realized I had been given a key to living the deeper life.
When I moved to the edge of Mohawk country in upstate New York in the mid-1980s, I started dreaming of an ancient woman shaman who insisted on speaking to me in her own language. The call of these dreams and visions was so powerful that eventually I sought out native speakers and linguists to help me identify the phrases I managed to transliterate. My helpers decided I was dreaming in Mohawk, but not as it is spoken today. “You are speaking the way Mohawks may have spoken three hundred years ago. And there’s some Huron in it.” I discovered that one of the funny words in these “Mohawk” dreams – ondinnonk – has a meaning in Native Amercan spiritual practice, as profound as anamnesis for the later Greek philosophers. It means “the seceret wish of the soul”, especially as revealed in dreams. What goes with that is the understanding that it is the duty of decent people, in a society that values dreaming, to gather round the dreamer and help her to tease from her dreams the secret wishes of the soul that they reveal – and to honor those wishes, in the knowledge that if we ignore soul, it will withdraw its energy from our lives.
When I first went to teach in the Baltic, in Lithuania in 2004, I met an ancient priestess (žyne) of the great Earrth Goddess, Žemyna. Like the Mohawk shaman woman, the žyne insisted on speaking her own language, and I needed the help of Lithuanian friends to translate the secrets of divination and healing she gave me, from her own tradition.
Before I started teaching Active Dreaming in France, I dreamed a curious word, chantepleure, that I find is unknown in contemporary France. (I tested this again during my recent teaching tour in the Midi; not one of thirty French people I questioned understood the word, though they could recognize its component parts, which mean “sings” and “cries”). A chantepleure, I discovered through old dictionaries, is an archaicFrench term for a watering can, which is today called an arrosoir. I wrote down this funny word in my journal after the dream, since that is my practice. I could find no context of understanding at the time.
Three years after the dream, through a string of fresh dreams, visions and synchronicities, I found myself drawn into the world of Joan of Arc and Charles d’Orleans, the prince in whose name she launched her warrior crusade. I discovered that a chantepleure dripping blood was chosen by Charles’ mother as the family emblem, signifying grief and the demand for justice, after his father, the first Duke of Orleans, was slaughtered by ax-murderers employed by the Duke of Burgundy. This trans-temporal adventure is still unfolding. Right after making this discovery, I was invited to teach a workshop at a chateau near Blois, the city Charles most loved.
Invited back to France in mid-November, I again found myself following word-clues. I recount how one of these clues led to an extraordinary menhir (standing stone) in a recent article at this blog (“Dream archeology in southern France”).
So: don’t discard any funny words or phrases that come to you in dreams. They may be clues to things beyond ordinary understanding that will expand your knowledge of the larger reality and your place within it. They can guide you towards cultures and traditions that are relevant to you. They can introduce personalities in other times who may be part of your spiritual family. In the age of Google, it’s easier to track some of these clues than it used to be. Dreams set us very interesting research assignments. And of course they can rehearse you for your travels in this world.
Antique French watering can at Foret